PORT ST. LUCIE — Since Hernando won the county’s only state baseball title, way back in 1967 when the Leopards were playing in Class B and defeated Melbourne Central Catholic 2-0, North Suncoast teams have had limited success in the state series.
That is, when they’ve been fortunate enough to make it that far.
Only six teams have advanced to the state semifinals after 1967. Zephyrhills made it to the Class B final in 1969 and had semifinal teams in 1970 and 2000. Pasco reached the championship in 1997 before bowing out to Jesuit. Ridgewood beat Dunedin 3-1 in the semis before getting blown out 13-0 by Bishop Kenny in the 2002 Class 4A state final.
Hernando was hoping to take nearly half a century’s worth of frustration out on Jesuit in Monday’s Class 4A state semifinal at Port St. Lucie’s Digital Domain Park. Instead, it was more of the same for an area that can’t quite get over the proverbial hump.
Jesuit’s batting order had too much power for Hernando pitchers Brett Maggard and J.T. Simpson. The Leopards’ hitters could mount little offensively against Tigers right-hander Conor O’Brien. And Jesuit scored in five of six trips to the plate to defeat Hernando 8-2 to reach its second straight state final.
“We were outpitched and outexecuted at the plate today,” Hernando coach Tim Sims said. “(Jesuit) fought for every pitch. …fouled off probably at least 50 balls. They did a better job at the plate fighting to get pitches to hit, and our hitters didn’t do it today. We’ve traditionally done that.”
Hernando (26-6) rattled Jesuit to start the game, and for a half-inning at least, appeared the veteran team accustomed to the state tournament experience. Leadoff hitter Tyler Bammert struck out but reached on a passed ball. A Jesuit error two batters later put a runner in scoring position, and Maggard took advantage, lacing a single to rightfield to plate Bammert for a 1-0 lead.
O’Brien, though, induced a 5-4-3 double play to end the threat, and what could have been a big inning for the Leopards fizzled
“We wanted a crooked number in the first inning,” Sims admitted.
Jesuit (27-6) answered with two runs in the second inning to take the lead for good. The Tigers’ Nolan Schultz singled with one out and came home on Max Beerman’s double off the top of the wall in leftfield. Beerman scored after Maggard, Hernando’s starter, balked on consecutive pitches.
Jesuit increased its advantage to 3-1 in the third when Pete Alonso (3-for-4, three RBIs) singled home a run. In the fourth, Vincent
Leto drove in another run with a single for a 4-1 Jesuit lead.
“(Jesuit) just came in and hit,” Maggard said.
Hernando showed signs of life in the fifth inning. Cody Gillis drew a two-out walk, went to second base on a wild pitch and scored when Bammert singled to rightfield. Jesuit, though, answered immediately, plating two more runs in the bottom of the fifth on Beerman’s RBI double and a run-scoring single from Joey Altieri.
Offense, which had been the Leopards’ strength all season, was limited by O’Brien, who held the Leopards to two runs on three hits over five innings and struck out six. Jesuit relievers John Kilichowski (sixth) and Spencer Trayner (seventh) each pitched an uneventful inning to prevent Hernando from rallying.
“The O’Brien kid, that’s the difference for them,” Sims said. “He pitched a heck of a game for them. He actually pitched today. The times we had seen him, he was a little bit wild.”
Maggard went four innings and allowed five runs on nine hits. Simpson came on in relief and was charged with two runs over two innings.
Despite the loss, Hernando was far from devastated.
“It was a fun ride and I loved it and I’ll always remember it,” Simpson said.